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Girl with a Pearl Earring: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 1,201 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer's extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries--and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer's prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel's quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant--and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. Chevalier vividly evokes the complex domestic tensions of the household, ruled over by the painter's jealous, eternally pregnant wife and his taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic. Still, Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist.

Throughout, Chevalier cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style, whose exactitude is an effective homage to the painter himself. Even Griet's most humdrum duties take on a high if unobtrusive gloss:

I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary--bones, white lead, madder, massicot--to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
In assembling such quotidian particulars, the author acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study The Embarrassment of Riches. Her novel also joins a crop of recent, painterly fictions, including Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever and Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Can novelists extract much more from the Dutch golden age? The question is an open one--but in the meantime, Girl with a Pearl Earring remains a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, and an appealingly new take on an old master. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Girl with a Pearl Earring has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452282152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452282155
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a thrilling emulation of Jan Vermeer's artistic style, Tracy Chevalier uses scenes drawn from everyday life and painstaking attention to detail to tell the story of Griet, a 16-year-old girl who is required by her family's misfortunes to become a maid in the Vermeer household.
I devoured the book the first time through, then read it again to savor the starkly beautiful language and the highly sensual account of 17th century life in a busy Dutch household. On both forays, I drank in the vivid descriptions of Vermeer's paintings and his creative process, from the positioning of his models to the grinding of bone and lead, massicot, madder and ochre, to make his pigments.
To those who complained that nothing happened or that the book was predictable, let me say, this was never meant to be a suspense story in the conventional sense. That an event could be foreseen doesn't render it improperly drawn. The magnetism of this tale is not its ability to surprise us with plot twists but to show the complex and fascinating interplay among people of different stations and sensibilities. Chevalier demonstrates her considerable skill in presenting Griet to be at the same time naive and intelligent, hemmed in by her lack of status and strong of spirit. Her resigned frustration over the many slights and unfair situations she must deal with strikes me as the only sensible option for one who must continue in employment for the sake of those she supports. Though I can't imagine Griet describing herself as anything but ordinary, her attention to detail--as keen in its own way as Vermeer's--and her understanding of the personalities and motives of those around her show her to be a remarkable young woman.
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Format: Hardcover
"Girl With a Pearl Earring" is the first major novel I have read since John Irving's "The World According to Garp" more than 20 years ago. As a journalist, I can't explain my aversion to fiction, other than to say that anything akin to "once upon a time" is already six feet under to me. Truth has always seemed stranger than fiction.

I was attracted to this book for one reason. I was at the Maurithuis Museum at the Hague in the Netherlands in 1996 and saw Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "A View of Delft" (both pictured on the book's dust jacket) in person. They are the most unforgettable paintings I have ever seen. Vermeer's paintings are incredibly hypnotic, drawing us into a time and place that no longer exists. By virtue of thousands of brush strokes, we are pulled into a time warp which places us into a scene the same surreal way that an old photograph does.

This is what author Tracy Chevalier has wonderfully achieved. Unlike other paintings riddled with religious motifs, nearly all of Vermeer's 35 known works have the ability to force you to think, "Yes, this must have been what ordinary life in Holland was like more than 300 years ago." And one can be quite moved by this even if one loathes cheap sentiment.

The book's triumph is taking the tangible, that is, the painting which still resides in the Netherlands -- fusing it with what historians know about life in 17th century Holland -- and then concocting something that not only is believable, but plausible, even though our minds are telling us, "But this is still a piece of fiction."

Griet, our heroine, does seems mature beyond her years. Yet her thoughts are not unbelievable when we remember our own youth, what scared us, moved us, what made us care about what others thought.
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Format: Hardcover
"Girl with a Pearl Earring," by Tracy Chevalier, is a story set in Delft, Holland in the 17th Century. A lovely sixteen-year-old named Griet, whose family has suffered financial setbacks, is sent to be a maidservant in the home of the great Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Griet finds herself drawn to the world of Vermeer--a world of light, color, beauty and perfect composition. Griet shows an aptitude for understanding art and she gradually begins to assist Vermeer in his painting. Griet's involvement in Vermeer's art sets the stage for family conflict. (The title of the novel comes from a Vermeer painting that is known as the Dutch Mona Lisa because of the enigmatic young woman in the portrait.) This novel is a small gem and it is an immensely satisfying work of fiction. Chevalier perfectly captures the life of 17th Century Delft, with its sharp religious and class distinctions, and her nuanced dialogue and descriptive passages are beautifully textured. In fact, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is like a Vermeer portrait. It is expressive, subtle and meaningful. I highly recommend this book for people who are fascinated by art and who enjoy historical fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
I had the pleasure of discovering "Girl" in an Advanced Reading Copy. A small gem of a book, as lustrous and lovely and the pearl of its title, I recommend this first novel wholeheartedly. Tracy Chevalier's first novel speaks in the lovely voice of her maidservant character, who transports its reader to seventeeh century Delft and Vermeer's home and studio. It's the kind of book that you want to run your hand over its cover each time you close it.
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